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NO 95-96

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INFO   :::  Helsinki Charter - PAGE 2 > Helsinki Charter No. 95-96 > Text


Helsinki Charter No. 95-96

May - June 2006



By Stipe Sikavica

Even when the results of the referendum in Montenegro became official the orthodox Serbian nationalists found it hard to accept the truth that the "small Montenegrin boat" dared to leave the convoy of "Serbian lands". The question about the survival of this boat in the stormy ocean of cruel international relations, especially in view of the challenges of global and regional terrorism, concealed their concern that the army of the former state union was apparently being divided into Serbian and Montenegrin forces, although in the past two years, it actually already operated on two tracks.

Anyway, Belgrade's militarily strategists of a strong patriotic provenance not only lament the predicament of Montenegrin defense, but also believe that Serbia's defense has become more vulnerable due to the "crumbling of the Serbian ethnic space", Serbia's "loss of access to the sea" (which, they say, has long been designed by "world-wide anti-Serbian schemists") and, finally, also the fact that the Serbian army will no longer have a navy. They judge that the Montenegrin army - envisaged by military experts in Podgorica to become a fully professional force of about a thousand men in but a few years - will be a negligible security factor, which is why the strategists of Milosevic's "war victories" say Serbia must fend for itself, i.e. rely on its own army.

But this army is not (and cannot be) what the members of the patriotic block would like it to be. They see the Serbian Army as a patriotic, rather than professional force, based on general military obligation, thus including conscripts, and think that its technical inferiority compared with the armies of the developed countries would be compensated by the number of troops. (There is nothing new in this idea, since this was also the model for the army of the former state union offered by the "Serbian patriots".) That is precisely why conservative Serbia has long placed the reforms of the Army of Serbia and Montenegro into the context of a "deliberate breakup of our army and defense", an operation which is, naturally, "externally managed".

One of the nationalist champions from the ranks of retired Serbian generals Milen Simic, towards the end of last year wrote in the Belgrade tabloid "Svedok" (Witness): "The American and British generals and officers, invited by their self-proclaimed friends, worked on the defense system and army reforms to bring them into a situation when we can only say that the Serbs were divested of the power to defend their territories." He then proceeds to make a capital conclusion: "Thus, the adulation of the minions from the MoD and 'reform oriented' generals and officers playing up to the American military bureaucracy produced disastrous consequences for the defense capacity of the Serbian nation because it (adulation - S.S.) was proclaimed a subservient value to be continuously cherished..."

Another retired general from the pleiad of "Serbian heroes" of the "Second Battle of Kosovo" , Bozidar Delic, at one time launched into the local media orbit as the key witness for Slobodan Milosevic's defense, the man who "thrashed" Geoffrey Nice, in his interview to the same paper confirmed the thesis that the "mass retirement" of generals "in their prime" amounted to "destruction of the army" and said: "I was pensioned off by Tadic, along with several of my colleagues. I do not take his side. But, I am grateful to him, I could not work with those who speak English." Thus, Delic does not "take Tadic's side", the one of the democratic option (notwithstanding the fact that both Tadic and his party are far from being beyond reproach!). He "takes the side" of Vojislav Seselj and an unhinged MP Zoran Krasic who, like his party leader, tirelessly spreads chauvinist rot in the Serbian parliament - he actually joined the Serbian Radical Party! (We can only imagine where the army and the defense reforms in Serbia would be heading with the radicals at the steering wheel and general Delic in the chair of the defense minister, which is obviously what he has his eyes on - a possibility that is unfortunately not inconceivable.)

There is no doubt that the active army structure in Serbia is exposed to quite a strong pressure of the numerous and remarkably patriotic echelon of not only retired generals (700 according to general Zdravko Ponos), but also other high ranking retired officers. Furthermore, the conservative line seems to prevail in the active officers' corps. These facts (in addition to numerous others) could substantially slow down army reforms which are, no matter what, impossible to stop altogether. The MoD personnel (apparently to be retained intact complete with Zoran Stankovic at its head, but renamed into the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Serbia) and the General Staffers both tend to exaggerate the achievements of military reforms in their public presentations.

The reform results are, in fact, fairly modest and can mostly be reduced to downsizing a cumbersome and inert army. And, we must bear in mind that the transformation of the military sphere in the former state union was not launched as a planned activity of the state and military top ranks but was, in my view, largely the outcome of three specific factors: a) large pressure of the international community b) chronic poverty of the state and the army (allowing only its bare existence), and c) hopelessly obsolete equipment accumulated from the war.

The name of the part of until recently joint army, which will now "cover" the territory of Serbia, will be decided by this country's parliament. But, it is already certain that it will be called Serbian Army - a choice made by the acting chief of staff, major general Zdravko Ponos and the president of the republic of Serbia Boris Tadic, as its supreme commander. (There are some indications that, if at all possible, Vojislav Kostunica would gladly take the commander's stick, but the current constitution of Serbia gives that power to the republic's president. We should recall that this is the same constitution adopted on September 28, 1990, thus at the time when the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was still, if not sound that at least tolerably well, the same constitution that opened the way for Slobodan Milosevic's war adventure by enabling the Serbian "leader" to withdraw Serbia's armed forces from the army of the federal state and thus de jure and de facto ruin the concept of all-national defense and social self protection, one of the pillars of the Yugoslav state of that time - whatever people chose to think about it today - and moreover, much before the Slovenian and Croatian separatists got to thinking about secession. This simple and obvious fact is, in Serbia, consigned to oblivion.)

Tadic's claim that the envisaged name "Serbian Army" does not endanger the human rights of national minorities stands on weak legs. But, the second part of his statement to the effect that the name was "linked with the Serbian tradition" also requires at least some reflection. The fact that it really draws on the Serbian tradition is a common place even in elementary school textbooks. But, the history of Serbian wars is not about "glory" or "manly and courageous deeds" alone, but also about quite a few "vestiges of inhumanity". The local military experts with a patriotic charge simply circumvent all joint states and their armies and draw a particularly sharp line denying any continuity with the communist state and the army of Tito's times, placing the "rebirth" of the Serbian army into a comfortable tradition of "famous Serbian victories" of the early 20th century, especially the tradition personified by its commander in chief Zivojin Misic! But this historical combination works out only at house parties. That is because all armies of joint states, no matter what their name was, were dominated by the Serbian national factor, in all spheres of their military organization. That is one point. To continue, what about the lost wars in the decade of Milosevic's rule? What about the horrible crimes committed in the name of the Serbian national body on (foul) battlefields throughout the former Yugoslavia?

On Saturday, June 24 this year, the first contingent of conscripts summoned to Pozarevac barracks took a solemn oath pledging their "honor and lives" to the "defense of the republic of Serbia". Defense minister Zoran Stankovic formally proclaimed the "new beginning" of the Serbian Army. Highly optimistic reform projections see the Serbian Army in 2010 fully transformed according to NATO model, and halved in numbers, meaning that it will have no more than 21,000 professional soldiers. However, the Serbian army (whatever it will be called) can have the state of the art equipment and organization, along with educated and pro-European command staff but we still believe that it cannot be fully transformed in the absence of the essential thing - reform in the minds of its people, which implies their dealing with the heavy legacy of the recent past. Naturally, the first step in that direction would be to face that past. Serbia, unfortunately, has neither the military nor political capacities for a reform of that kind. Barring individual exceptions, something like that is still beyond the horizon.


NO 95-96

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